This article will break down what Avoidant Restrictive Food Disorder is through an in-depth interview with Chloe Newton who bravely speaks out about her disorder and how this can be better understood in medicine and society.

1.What would you describe ARFID to be ?

“Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder is not easily defined as it is experienced differently among people with the disorder. There are different types of ARFID although I have known these to overlap; lack of interest in food, sensory avoidance such as involving smell, taste, texture and fear of aversive consequences such as being sick, choking or allergies. ARFID is newly recognised so more research on these types are to be done. The way I have always found best to describe my own experience with the disorder is that it is like asking an arachnophobe to put a spider in their mouth and swallow it.

In my own experience I have categorised food types into three sections that may also apply to others with ARFID but with different requirements. Section one is safe foods, these bring little to no anxiety, can be eaten everyday, can sometimes be eaten outside of a comfort space, are okay to be around while others are eating them, usually the only foods craved, may be enjoyed and can usually fill me up.

The second section I use is stationary foods. Stationary foods for me are those that cause some anxiety but I can generally tolerate as long as I am not eating it .

The last section is unsafe foods, these foods I may physically gag at and I am completely repulsed by.

There are also physical symptoms to ARFID, as well as high levels of anxiety it may cause vomiting. Anxiety also proposes its own physical symptoms such as feeling sick, dizzy, trouble breathing and throat closing or ache. These can increase the fear of certain foods if experienced repetitively for certain types.”

2.What are some misconceptions people make?

“One of the biggest misconceptions made about ARFID is that it is picky eating and will resolve on its own. The main difference between picky eating and ARFID is that ARFID is based on fear of consequence and involves anxiety, picky eating may well develop into ARFID but it is not the same thing.

Another massive misconception made about ARFID is that it is a decision. ARFID is a mental disorder and is not simply a choice. A person with ARFID may seem fine eating certain foods but will not try others, this may lead others especially parents to see this as a preference of food when this is simply not the case. This misconception is also often seen among GPs as it may seem that their patient is choosing not to eat certain foods which may lead to the diagnosis being missed or written off as picky eating.

A common misconception made among GPs is that ARFID only affects children. ARFID often develops in younger ages but this is not always how it develops.

“The easiest way to explain it is that its anxiety for breakfast, lunch and dinner”

“The worst thing it has affected for me is my relationship with my family as they struggle to understand me and it upsets them.” -Chloe Newton

A misconception often made among GPs is that it is body image related. ARFID is not body image related and is instead  is a disorder based on a fear of an adverse reaction, it is not a diet choice or to lose weight. Many cases of ARFID have been misdiagnosed as anorexia or bulimia, ARFID may present as either of these and can have similar side effects but is not fuelled by body image.

ARFID in many cases does not lead to the extensive loss in weight, a lot of the time a person with this disorder will meet the requirement for someone of their ages weight and will do so steadily for a few years. The issue in this is that it is then not taken as seriously as it should be because although the person is not underweight there mental and physical health is still at risk.”

3.How does this affect you with day to day interactions ?

“Personally I tell people the easiest way to explain it is that its anxiety for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

It often affects school as I have to have time off for doctors appointments and check ups and if I’m unwell It takes longer for me to recover as I often do not eat at all when unwell.

It affects the social aspects of life such as sleepovers, holidays and trips. As with ARFID your diet is so restricted you miss out on a lot of activities. The worst thing it has affected for me is my relationship with my family as they struggle to understand me and it upsets them.”

4.Where do you see research on ARFID going in the future?

“More research needs to be done on the origin of this disorder and how to prevent its development. Also on the long term health risks as it is so new there is an idea of how bad it can be but not definitive proof. I believe the next step in research is how to treat this disorder as overall it is still barely recognised without any course of treatment tailored to it so far. Hypnotherapy has been said to work in many cases as well as CBT and exposure therapy but still so much is unknown about this disorder.”

“Although the person is not underweight there mental and physical health is still at risk”

“The misconception that it as not as bad as other eating disorders, this is a dangerous misconception as a person with this disorder may tell themselves that they do not need the help or are not deserving of help in opposed to people with others. Every eating disorder proposes its own challenges, this means they are all treated in different ways but this is not treated on a scale of whose is worse as everyone struggles varyingly.”

5.How can people see these signs?

“ARFID can a lot of the time be hard to spot. Many people with ARFID will appear healthy. The main things to look out for is, someone being physically repulsed by food maybe even gaging or needing to be sick, pale skin, the disconnection of food related topics in conversation, refusing to try new foods, little to no appetite, slow eating or difficulty eating in large groups or around certain foods or unfamiliar people or areas, they may complain of stomach pain after eating large amounts of food and or feels sick around meal times.

For a parent it may be hard to spot ARFID as it may be written off as picky eating, it is key you ask your child why they choose not to eat certain foods.”

6.What ways can others around you be supportive?

“A lot of the time the best way to be supportive is just to listen even if you cannot always provide a solution. Be supportive of their decisions and do not try to push anyone with this disorder to try anything that they’re not comfortable trying, try encouraging someone to try something new by letting them know its okay if they do not want to and your proud of them either way as opposed to guilt tripping them into it. As a close friend of someone with this disorder its good to ask them what and what they are not comfortable with around meal times and to be as adhering to this as possible and to not make them feel isolated.”